Posts tagged with "visibly intoxicated"

Jury Instruction Was “Accurate,” Not Misleading: Appeals Court Affirms Evading Responsibility Judgment

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut rejected a defendant’s claim that the trial court’s jury instruction regarding the elements of evasion of responsibility was misleading.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the night of July 16, 2001, in Bridgeport, CT. The defendant consumed six beers in three and a half hours before and while eating dinner. He left the restaurant in his truck and approached the same intersection as the victim, who was on a motorcycle. Without signaling, the defendant turned into the victim’s path, and despite significant effort to avoid a collision, the victim struck the back end of the truck. The victim was thrown from his motorcycle and died from his injuries. A witness observed the accident and later testified that “the truck then stopped, the defendant stepped out of the truck, looked, got back in and took off.” Police pursued the defendant, who stopped only after he was forced to by a second police cruiser. The defendant was visibly intoxicated, and blood alcohol tests produced readings of 0.172 and 0.167, over twice the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and evading responsibility, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §§ 53a-56(a)(1), 53a-56b(a), and 14-224(a), respectively. At trial, the defendant testified that “while he was turning left, after giving a signal, he felt an impact toward the rear of his truck, saw nothing and thought someone had hit his vehicle and driven off.” The defendant was convicted on the second two counts. He appealed his conviction, arguing, in part, that the trial court did not properly instruct the jury regarding the elements of evading responsibility. Specifically, he claimed:

1)      The court misled the jury by using the word “prevent” rather than “unable” with respect to reporting requirements of CGS § 14-224(a).

2)      The court improperly instructed the jury that it had to find that “some outside force caused the defendant to be unable to report the information,” rather than “the defendant’s being unable to report for any cause or reason.”

3)      The court did not instruct the jury that the defendant was legally excused from the remaining statutory requirements because he was arrested while seeking assistance for the victim.

The Appellate Court was not persuaded by any of these arguments. Because the defendant did not draw a sufficient distinction between the use of “prevent” and “unable,” the court’s use of the first word was harmless. The Court reiterated that CGS § 14-224(a) does not provide any legal excuse for failing to stop. As the legislative history indicates, “failure to stop immediately cannot be cured at some later time by an operator reporting the incident to police.” As such, a reasonable jury could find that the defendant did not immediately stop and render assistance to the victim following the collision, and by leaving the scene he was not satisfying his duties under the statute. The Appellate Court found that the jury instruction, as given, was proper and did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial.

When faced with a charge of evading responsibility, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Being Asleep at the Wheel of a Parked, but Running, Vehicle Constitutes “Operation” Under State DUI Law

In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut considered whether a driver, who was asleep in the driver’s seat of his car while it was still running, operated a motor vehicle under Connecticut’s DUI law.

This case arose from an incident that occurred after midnight on December 24, 2005. Officers found the defendant asleep in the driver’s seat of his motor vehicle while the engine was still running. After waking the defendant and observing him as visibly intoxicated, the officers administered the standard field sobriety tests, all of which the defendant failed. The defendant was arrested, and at the police department, he submitted to two chemical alcohol tests, which revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol content as more than twice the legal limit.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 14-227a. He filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he was not operating his car. Rather, “he merely was asleep in his motor vehicle on a cold night with the motor running only to provide heat and power to run the radio.” However, the court denied the motion, and the defendant entered into a conditional plea of nolo contendere. Such a conditional plea reserves a defendant’s right to appeal. After sentencing, the defendant appealed, arguing that the court’s denial of his motion to dismiss was improper.

Under Connecticut case law, “operation” of a motor vehicle does not require that the vehicle actually be driven. Rather, “the insertion of a key into the ignition is an act… which alone or in sequence will set into motion the motive power of the vehicle.” Thus, simply putting the key into the ignition “constitute[s] operation of a motor vehicle within the meaning of § 14-227a(a).” This proposition has been upheld, for example, even when the operator is unconscious in the driver’s seat while the engine is running. In this case, the Appellate Court found that the defendant operated his car because he was in the driver’s seat of his vehicle with the engine turned on; it did not matter, for purposes of “operation,” that he was asleep at the time. Therefore, the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Appellate Court affirmed judgment.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Sentencing Review Division Affirms Sentence of Remorseless DUI Driver with Rare Disease

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut affirmed the sentence of a petitioner following his conviction for a DUI-related fatality.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on night of July 28, 1998. The petitioner suffered from Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), a rare illness that can cause deafness, blindness, or even death. That morning, he underwent a radiation treatment, and then attended a farewell party that evening. At the party, the petitioner drank nine to twelve ounces of scotch and was visibly intoxicated by the time he left alone. He traveled various highways in the wrong direction and then entered a northbound ramp going southbound. The petitioner drove into an oncoming vehicle, which resulted in a fatality. He was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment, and blood tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.210, over two-and-a-half times the legal limit.

The petitioner was charged with reckless manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol. At his jury trial, he argued that he was not intoxicated at the time of the accident; rather, a defense expert testified that the defendant “lost consciousness as a result of a seizure caused by his NF2 disease.” The jury was not convinced and convicted the petitioner on all counts, and he was sentenced to fifteen years execution suspended after ten years, with five years’ probation and a $21,000 fine.

The petitioner asked the Sentencing Review Division of the Superior Court to reduce the non-suspended part of his sentence for three reasons. He first argued that the sentence imposed was inappropriate and disproportionate, as those similarly situated received lighter sentences. Second, he argued that the trial court did not consider his health problems when determining his sentence, and that he was receiving inadequate treatment by the Department of Corrections. Finally the petitioner stated that because was “a person of good moral character” who accepted responsibility for his crime, modification was warranted.

The Superior Court rejected all of the petitioner’s arguments for sentence reduction. It noted that despite claiming that individuals convicted of similar crimes received lighter sentences, the petitioner provided little to no information about those cases that would facilitate a proper comparative analysis. Furthermore, the Court acknowledged that the sentencing court was “fully aware of his health issues,” and the sentence was made after appropriate consideration of the petitioner’s health. In addition, the Court would not address the petitioner’s DOC complaint, because it “may only consider matters which were before the sentencing court at the time of sentencing.” Finally, the sentencing court considered the petitioner’s background and history, and found that he was “in denial regarding the role that alcohol played [in] his crime, failed to show any empathy for the suffering caused by the victim’s family and posed a danger to society.” Therefore, the Superior Court affirmed the sentence because it was neither inappropriate nor disproportionate.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

“Mommy Just Got Into a Little Accident,” Along With Other Evidence, Was Sufficient to Find That DUI Driver Operated her Car

In a recent criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut dismissed the plaintiff’s license suspension appeal, stating that the hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff “operated” her motor vehicle.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on December 12, 2010. Police responded to a complaint from a woman (neighbor), who stated that the plaintiff’s vehicle backed out of her driveway across the street and struck her car. Officers proceeded up the driveway in question and saw the plaintiff, who was accompanied by her four-year-old son, “fumbling with her keys and struggling to keep her balance as she attempted to open her garage.” The plaintiff was visibly intoxicated, and when the officer asked the son what happened, he responded, “Mommy just got into a little accident.” Officers believed the plaintiff was so inebriated that administering the field sobriety tests would be unsafe. They arrested the plaintiff and transported her to police headquarters, where two breath tests revealed blood alcohol contents of 0.2181 and 0.2097, two-and-a-half times the legal limit. A subsequent inspection of the plaintiff’s vehicle revealed damage consistent with that from the neighbor’s car.

The plaintiff was charged with driving under the influence in violation of Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) § 14-227a. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sent her a notice of suspension, and she requested an administrative hearing. The hearing officer made four statutory findings pursuant to CGS § 14-227b(g), and given the plaintiff’s history of suspensions, ordered that her license be suspended for two years and six months. The plaintiff appealed, stating that the hearing officer’s conclusion on the fourth criteria of CGS § 14-227b(g), “operation,” was without factual support. She contested the neighbor’s identification of her as the driver and use of her son’s hearsay statement, as well as the fact that police did not see her driving.

When a plaintiff contests the decision of a DMV hearing officer, they have the burden of proving that the decision was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. A decision that is reasonably supported by the evidence will be sustained by a reviewing court. In addition, hearing officers have broad discretion in accepting or discrediting witness testimony, and are not bound to the strict rules of evidence regarding hearsay. Therefore, hearing officers have the authority to rely on hearsay of operation so long as the testimony is relevant and material to that finding.

In this case, the Superior Court found that the hearing officer had ample evidence that the plaintiff operated her car. The officers personally saw the plaintiff in possession of her keys outside the garage in which her car was located. Given the coinciding damage between both cars, along with the neighbor’s and son’s statements, which the hearing officer was free to accept, there was sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff operated her motor vehicle. Therefore, the hearing officer did not abuse his discretion, and after addressing the plaintiff’s additional claims, the Superior Court dismissed her appeal.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.